It’s a controversy that’s taken the swimming world by storm, with Australia’s Mack Horton refusing to stand on the podium alongside China’s Sung Yan in apparent protest of his recent dealings with FINA’s doping authority.
The tragic state of Australian tennis will be bared to the world at the French Open, with Sam Stosur the only chance of success. And a rough one at that.
In 23 Slams, Stosur has only reached the quarters, or better, three times.
* The semis of the French in 2009 – beaten by Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4 6-7 6-3.
* The French final last year – lost to Francesca Schiavone 6-4 7-6.
* And the quarters of the US Open last year – beaten by Kim Clijsters 6-4 5-7 6-3.
The second Slam of the year starts tomorrow at Roland Garros on the red clay, with Stosur seeded eight drawn to meet Czech Iveta Benesova in the opening round.
Providing Stosur brings her power-game and doesn’t choke, the 27-year-old should make it safely through to the round of 16 and a meeting with world number one Caroline Wozniacki.
One of the major benefits in being seeded eight is that there are no top seeds lurking nearby in the early rounds, and Stosur must make the most of it.
But the biggest problem throughout her 11-year career is while she’s beaten the likes of Serena Williams, Justine Henin, Lindsay Davenport, and Amelie Maurismo at their best, she’s lost to far too many rank outsiders.
That’s why Stosur has won only two titles – Osaka in 2009 and Charleston last year – and lost seven finals, the latest to Maria Sharapova in Rome two weeks go.
And why her career stats stand at 332 wins and 238 losses. A 58% win-rate won’t get the job done.
Nonetheless, Sam Stosur is the only chance to end Australian women’s singles drought at the French, last won by Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980.
The other Aussies on duty – Casey Dellaqua, Anastasia Rodionova, Jelena Dokic, and Jamila Gaidosova – will have trouble from the opening round, with Dokic the best of them.
But my tip is Maria Sharapova to complete her career Grand Slam, to go with her Wimbledon, Australian, and US Open crowns – the task made easier by Serena and Venus Williams still suffering long-term injuries.
On her day, Sharapova can out-scream, out-hit, and out-think anyone on the women’s tour, and waltz away with the fashion stakes, as well.
In the men’s, Lleyton Hewitt returns to the court for the first time since March 10. He’s played only eight matches all year with a 4-4 return, his wiry frame susceptible to injury and illness.
First up for the former world number one, Wimbledon, and US Open champion is Spaniard Albert Montanes. And he’s no picnic for the 30-year-old Australian, who is sadly playing for memory.
On his day, Hewitt was the greatest little fighter the sport has ever seen, but his speed has gone and so too his incredible ability to retrieve seemingly impossible shots. His hallmark.
The fact Hewitt is now ranked 64 and falling tells the story.
The only other Australian on duty – 18-year-old Bernard Tomic, ranked 193 in the world – takes on beatable Argentine Carlos Berlocq first up, but the Spaniard Nicholas Almago will have far too much ammunition to fire at the Aussie in the second round.
So the fact an Australian hasn’t won the French since Rod Laver in 1969 on his way to his second Grand Slam, will remain intact.
But three burning questions in 2011 need to be answered:
* Can Rafael Nadal make it six French Opens to equal Bjorn Borg’s record?
* Can Novak Djokovic continue his remarkable run his year, unbeaten in 39 matches, winning seven titles already, and it’s only May?
* And has Roger Federer run his race?
The key to all three is the Serbian, Djokovic.
He’s already beaten Nadal four from four this year to capture the Indian Wells-Miami Masters double on hard-court, and the Madrid-Rome Masters double on clay
And he’s beaten Federer in a semi of the Australian Open, the final in Dubai, and a semi in Indian Wells, in their only three meetings.
But Djokovic has been dealt the toughest French Open draw of the three big guns.If the seeds are right, he’ll have to beat Federer and Nadal to win. Nadal must beat Andy Murray and Djokovic.
But it’s no laydown misere that Federer will reach the semis. So far this year he’s been beaten seven times by Djokovic (3), Nadal (2), and by journeymen Richard Gasquet and Jurgen Melzer.
Nonetheless, it promises to be a fascinating three-way battle for the big prize between the big three, with Juan Martin del Potro the smokey.
But the Argentine has the hard-to-beat Croatian Ivo Karlovic first up in another battle of the bazooka serves.
Karlovic is the tallest on tour at 6ft 10 (208cm), but del Potro is no shrinking violet at 6ft 6 (198cm).- their wing spans look like 747s.
Bring it on.